23 Feb 2021
A Commentary by John Stott
Verse 6 contains three closely related clauses. We are told that something happened, in order that something else might happen, in order that a third thing might happen. *We know that our old self was crucified with him (sc. Christ), so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin* (6). Perhaps the best way to grasp Paul’s logic is to take these three stages in the opposite order. God’s end-purpose, he tells us, is our freedom from sin’s tyranny: *that we should no longer be slaves to sin*. That is plain.
But before our rescue is possible, *the body of sin* must be *done away with*. The conquest must precede our deliverance. What is it? The ‘body of sin’ should certainly not be rendered ‘the sinful body’ (RSV), implying that the human body itself is contaminated or corrupt. That was a gnostic notion. The biblical doctrines of creation, incarnation and resurrection all give us a high view of our body as the God-intended vehicle through which to express ourselves. Perhaps then *the body of sin* means ‘our sin-dominated body’ or ‘the body as conditioned and controlled by sin’, because sin uses our body for its own evil purposes, perverting our natural instincts, degrading sleepiness into sloth, hunger into greed, and sexual desire into lust. Others suggest that ‘the body of sin’ means ‘the sinful self’ (REB), our fallen, self-centred nature, *soma* (body) being used here as a synonym for *sarx* (flesh). This seems to suit the context best.
Now God’s purpose is that this sinful self should be ‘destroyed’ (RSV) or better *done away with* (NIV). The verb *katargeo* has a wide range of meanings from ‘nullify’ to ‘abolish’. Since it is used in this verse of our sinful nature, and in Hebrews 2:14 of the devil, and since both are alive and active, it cannot here mean ‘eliminate’ or ‘eradicate’. It must mean rather that our sinful nature has been defeated, disabled, deprived of power.
To understand how this has happened we come to the first clause of verse 6, which says that *our old self* (AV ‘our old man’) *was crucified with him* (sc. Christ). This cannot refer to our sinful self or old nature, if that is what *the body of sin* means. The two expressions cannot mean the same thing, or the sentence makes nonsense. No, *our old self* denotes not our lower self but our former self, ‘the man we once were’ (NEB), ‘our old humanity’ (REB), the person we used to be in Adam. So what was crucified with Christ was not a part of us called our old nature, but the whole of us as we were in our pre-conversion state. This should be clear because the phrase *our old self was crucified* (6) is equivalent to *we died to sin* (2).